North Korea a nuclear power state, says IAEA chief (Lead)

April 20th, 2009 - 7:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Beijing, April 20 (DPA) North Korea must be regarded as a nuclear power, the head of the UN’s international nuclear watchdog said Monday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also said in Beijing, four days after North Korea forced the agency’s inspectors out of the country, that North Korea could restart its main nuclear facility within months.

Therefore, North Korea must be persuaded to return to the negotiating table as quickly as possible, he said.

“North Korea has nuclear weapons, which is a matter of fact,” ElBaradei said of the nation that conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

“I don’t like to accept any country as a nuclear weapon state,” ElBaradei said but added, “We have to face reality,” as he counted nine nuclear powers in the world, including North Korea.

ElBaradei’s comments made on the sidelines of an international conference on nuclear energy went substantially beyond the view of the US, which does not acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear power.

Observers said Washington wants to prevent strengthening North Korea’s hand at the negotiating table by equating it with eight official and de-facto nuclear powers.

The US, Russia, China, France and Britain are officially recognised as nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and India, Pakistan and Israel are also considered nuclear powers.

Although North Korea announced last week its withdrawal from six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programme, dialogue with Pyongyang must be restared, ElBaradei said.

“We need to find a solution before they go into building their nuclear power arsenal,” he said.

The six-nation talks involving North and South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia have been stalled since late last year over a dispute on verifying the totalitarian state’s disarmament progress.

At the time, it had been in the process of disabling its nuclear facility in Yongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang.

“We don’t know how far they dismantled,” ElBaradei said, adding North Korea could restart the facility in “a matter of months”.

He warned that the longer the standoff with North Korea lasts, the worse it would be for the international community, but he added that he was confident of the potential for new talks with the isolated, impoverished country because of the new policies of North Korea’s archrival, the US, under President Barack Obama.

“I am optimistic about the approach not to go for confrontation but to go for common ground to build on,” he said.

Tensions with North Korea, however, have risen recently with its rocket launch April 5.

According to Pyongyang, the launch placed a communications satellite into orbit, but the US, Japan and South Korea said they detected no satellite and viewed the launch as a front to test ballistic missile technology.

The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the launch, which North Korea reacted to it by saying it would boycott the six-nation talks and restart its Yongbyon facility and then kicked out the IAEA inspectors last week.

The inspectors have been stationed in Yongbyon since July 2007 to monitor that the reactor, spent fuel pond and plants for making and reprocessing the reactor’s fuel remain turned off. The reprocessing plant was used in the past to make plutonium for weapons.

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